Compost for the Lazy: Throw It on the Ground

finished compost

Compost can save the world! It sucks carbon dioxide out of the air and not only that, a half-inch layer of this black gold can still increase yields years after its application. I had been composting in our community bins for nearly 10 years but decided to start a rogue pile in my yard several months ago. I can’t grow much out there in the shade but food scraps will certainly rot. In fact, I can’t possibly prevent the natural process of rot.

When I composted at my house years ago, like many people, I believed I needed to buy a special bin. For my new compost pile, I wanted to create a simple, inexpensive system. I could have made a cylindrical bin out of chicken wire or built an upcycled bin from wooden pallets (both great options). But instead I bought nothing. I built nothing. I took what I had collected in the kitchen and threw it on the ground.

I throw everything on my pile:

  • Fruit peels, scraps and all pits. Even avocado pits break down quickly!
  • Vegetable peels and scraps. I make vegetable broth out of most little bits of vegetables, after which they go on the pile.
  • Corn cobs. I couldn’t believe how quickly these dry out. After a couple of weeks, I can easily break them up into 1- or 2-inch pieces to speed up their decomposition.
  • Butter wrappers. I have mentioned many times on my blog that I refuse to give up butter. I recycle the paper box and throw the wrappers on the ground. “I’M AN ADULT!”
  • Bones. Most people will tell you never to add bones to compost. We don’t eat much meat, but when we do, I make bone broth and then add those bones to the pile. Within weeks, they petrify and I can easily crush them into powder with my hand. I couldn’t even find any in the first pile today. They had completely broken down. Amazing.
compost bowl
Scraps for the compost heap. Most of these came from the birthday dinner my kids cooked for their dad.

I have read that meat and bones attract animals but I attract animals regardless. Until this morning, I had no bones on my pile (the last ones broke down weeks ago) and yet an opossum has been dining at chez Bonneau nightly. My kids named him Richard Nixon. Through my bedroom window, I hear Richard Nixon out there in the middle of the night rustling through the leaves, eating his dinner. You may not want an opossum in your yard but I think he (or she) is cute (I saw him this morning). We tried to capture footage of him on a motion-detector, night-vision camera my neighbor set up in my yard, but Richard Nixon is a sneaky one. We captured only me working out there.

Even with a couple of my neighbors adding their food scraps to my pile, it’s small enough that I don’t feel the need to build any sort of bin to contain it. The critters visit the pile from the earth beneath and set to work chowing down and converting the scraps to rich, loamy soil use—black gold for gardeners. And I have tons of critters! Right now, I don’t have as many worms as I would like. I need to do a better job of keeping my pile moist. The summer heat makes this more difficult. But as I said, you cannot stop compost from breaking down—it actually ferments, as we all will one day—and you can’t really mess it up if you follow a few simple steps. This is what I do:

  1. Throw kitchen scraps on the pile. These are called green materials.

  2. Throw a handful of brown materials on top, such as leaves, shredded corn stalks or hay. The giant acacia tree in my yard, under which my compost piles sit, rains down leaves constantly. I use those. By creating air pockets, brown materials prevent your pile from becoming a soggy, smelly mess.

  3. Add moisture to the pile. Compost will dry out in the summer, so ideally, situate your pile in a shady spot.

  4. Turn the pile every few days to inject it with air, which helps speed up decomposition. My neighbor says I don’t need to turn such small piles. Like sourdough bread making, you’ll find various recipes for compost. I’m just describing what I do. You may want to do it a little differently.

2015-08-01 11.01.59
Turning the pile
  1. Once the first pile becomes large and starts to break down and cook, start a second pile. And it really does cook. My second active pile felt very hot today when I turned it! How thrilling! The heat means it’s working. The piles are a little difficult to make out in the picture below. The finished pile sits behind the cooking pile.
pile one and pile two
Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.
  1. Remove the compost from the first pile, pull out any noticeably large pieces that haven’t broken down, like the corn husks I should have shredded below, and throw them on the second pile. Work the compost from the finished pile into your soil where desired.

2015-08-01 10.54.42

  1. After using up the first pile, let the second pile cook and throw scraps where the first pile had been. By starting a second pile, I have one cooking and one ready (or nearly ready) to use.

Of course you can get much more scientific about your compost than my steps here do. This is another good resource.

finished compost
Finished compost

Look at that beautiful, rich black gold! And I love the earthy smell! Done properly, compost does not smell at all. Even with the addition of urine. The fact that I sometimes add urine to my pile will no doubt horrify some, but I think the fact that it can horrify just shows how detached we are from nature.

Urine contains high amounts of nitrogen. Dry brown materials contain more carbon. A low carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (say 7:1 as opposed to 35:1) decomposes organic matter quickly.

ready for planting

On the weekend, my neighbor ripped out the vines in a bed outside of my yard and worked the compost into the soil. I planted a few squash seeds in there I saved recently. Perhaps I planted too late in the year but I enjoy experimenting.

47 Comment

  1. Excellent post! Compost is one of those simple things we all can do (we do compost in a balcony!), giving back to Earth what belongs to her. Thanks for the writing.

    1. Thanks so much! It is VERY easy. It’s just silly to put these valuable resources in a garbage bag, lug the full bag out to the curb where a gas-guzzling garbage truck picks it up and hauls it to an overburdened landfill. What a crazy, complicated system we have created!

  2. We have kerbside compost pick up, but I have been doing a “free style” type of composting in the garden- basically any spot that I am preparing to plant something I start putting veggie scraps out to attract worm friends so they get to work, and turn it when I think about it. Usually a couple of weeks later I have a beautiful spot of soil that new plants take to really well. It’s definitely composting for the lazy 🙂 Thanks for the post xx

    1. Ohhhh great idea Lisa. If my pile gets too large, I could try that. Word is getting out about my compost and neighbors want to bring their food scraps over 😉 Thanks for checking out the post!

  3. Becky says: Reply

    We used to have an open compost bin, but it began to attract rats, so we went to a container method.
    The warmth of the sun actually helps compost break down faster, so our bins are black tubs with lots of holes for air and moisture to get through. This year, there is a very happy cherry tomato plant growing up the side of the compost bin – it must have escaped!

    1. I hope I don’t attract rats! So far just the opossum. I love it when rogue plants start growing in/around the compost bin! That’s such a bonus. I bet those will be delicious cherry tomatoes.

      1. Becky says:

        Ours started with a oppossum, then moved to raccoons and finally rats. The squirrels have eaten all the tomatoes, so I can’t say how they taste, but the plant is huge!

      2. Yikes! I hope I don’t see any rats out there! We do have raccoons in the neighborhood but I haven’t seen any feasting on my compost pile. Lucky squirrels 😉

  4. Corrugated cardboard encourages worms- I rip it up And keep it damp. They love it.

    1. Thank you for that tip! Do you just tear it up and add it to the pile or do you put it underneath? My sister puts cardboard down in her garden (whole sheets though) and then wets it, adds dirt and plants her seeds or plants. She said it works really well.

      1. I’ve done both. I think in your situation I would shred it and add it. A layer smothers weeds .

      2. Thank you! I will give it a try 🙂

  5. Linda says: Reply

    Do you find that by putting food scraps and bones on your garden that you encourage rodents?

    1. I have attracted an opossum to my yard. I haven’t seen other rodents though. The bones completely break down to a powdery dust, so there’s nothing left of them after only a two or three weeks. Also we eat only a little meat so I put only a few bones on there. So maybe if I added more I would attract rodents. So far, so good (except for the opossum but I think he is cute).

      1. Stephen Henry Davenport says:

        I’m a year late to this party but thanks for your blog. I love your devil-may-care composting. We also have made it up on the hoof, with few differences except a loose container.

        We don’t add bones / meat / meal leftovers except fruit cores and occasional veg and it attracts opossums anyway! We’re lucky enough to have one regularly visiting our yard, and I’m certain picking through the best of the remains. I found it tonight loafing on the compost and nonchalantly chewing on a discarded pickle. It looked up as if to say “What? I’m chewing a pickle. And?” Most amusing. I love them.

      2. Hahaha! I think they are pretty cute critters. My cat saw ours recently and didn’t know what to make of him. Fortunately for Bootsy and/or the oppossum, Bootsy was inside behind a glass door.

        A friend of mine told me recently she is intimidated by the whole composting thing. I told her stuff rots–you can’t stop it! We seem to love to make things complicated. Thanks for reading and for the comment 🙂

  6. I love this! Sharing on my Facebook. I’d love to pin it, too, but I didn’t see the icon. I’ll check again. Great post!

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

    2. 'Becca says: Reply

      You can pin anything by copying the URL and pasting it into Pinterest. Or you can get a Pinterest button for the toolbar of your browser, and then when you see a page you like, just click the button.

      1. Thank you for pinning 🙂

      2. You have a brilliant blog!

      3. Thank you so much. That makes my day 🙂

      4. Thanks for the info. I thought I had the Pinterest button. I better double check what’s going on.

  7. Great post, I love compost! I think you’ll make some lucky worms happy!

    1. Thank you! I love compost too. I’ve always found it fascinating. And it’s so easy. I think it can seem intimidating at first to some but there is really nothing to it.

  8. Hilda says: Reply

    I thought I knew all about composting, but never thought to put bones in it, or to dry corn cobs and break them up. I learn a lot from your blot.

    1. Thank you, Hilda 🙂 I thought I would give it a try, throwing in the bones and cobs, and was pleasantly surprised that it worked! I’ve also learned a lot from your blog!

  9. Aggie says: Reply

    It’s encouraging to see that small open piles work!

    1. It is working well out there, Aggie. And it breaks down quickly too. I should have been composting this way all along. Saves me a trip to the community compost bins. I just step into my yard.

      1. Aggie says:

        I always feel guilty that I don’t do the official turn and check the temperature method. This is encouraging. Thanks again.

  10. Mz.Lyne says: Reply

    So that was interesting.
    I compost on my balcony.
    Do I need worms?
    How much moisture is suggested?
    What form of moisture? Urine?
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I think you’ll need some worms. You need critters in there to break down the food scraps. The compost should me moist but not soggy, kind of like a rung-out sponge. You can just add water. Yes, I add urine. I have asked male friends to go directly on the pile but so far no one has taken me up on it. I sometimes collect mine in a jar and take it out there.

  11. Brilliant! This shows there is no excuse for not composting.

  12. […] Source: Compost for the Lazy: Throw It on the Ground | The Zero-Waste Chef […]

    1. Thank you for sharing!

  13. Enjoyed this post very much. I have a large area behind a white picket fence in the corner of my backyard where I compost. Every morning, I walk out there and dump vegetable scraps, bread, coffee grounds, and coffee filters in the pile and everyday, my free-range chickens go out there and do their chicken dance in the dirt as they pick out the food scraps they like. I do not put meat out there as I am afraid of attracting rodents that will comeback for the chickens! I never have to turn the compost with the chickens around.

    1. Your system sounds perfect–easy and it closes the loop! Oh to have chickens. Thanks for sharing that 🙂

  14. […] I’ve only done curbside composting, but with our big new community garden plot, I might take Zero Waste Chef’s simple advice and just start throwing scraps on the ground […]

    1. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  15. So inspiring. It looks so simple. We started a compost some month ago. Not sure to do it properly. Let’s see 🙂

    1. Thank you! It is very easy. In fact, you can’t stop food scraps from breaking down if you wanted to. Good luck with yours. It should be great 🙂

  16. 'Becca says: Reply

    I also have an article on lazy composting! In my case, I prefer to laze by not turning it very often. I do have bins, but they’re just large flowerpots. I also compost some autumn leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds and (along with the trimmings from my shrubbery and the dead morning-glory vines in the fall) erosion control for my steep slope; some years I have cleaned up all the fallen leaves from the sidewalks and street along much of my block, since I live on a little side street that the city doesn’t street-sweep very often, and the leaves are hazardously slippery to pedestrians and even cars–may as well use them to rebuild my soil!

  17. […] Interesting Extras by Others: * A review post on types of compost tumblers * A Lazy Composter’s experience * A blogger’s experience with […]

  18. Great article, thank you. I definitely needed the lazy guide! We just bought a house and it has all the makings of a great compost heap – plenty of grass clippings and an even more plentiful supply of dried leaves! Add to that the fact that I’m filling my Bokashi compost bin up quicker than you can say “I threw it on the ground”, and I really do have all the necessary ingredients. I’ve just been putting it off though, thinking I needed a bin to help deter pests and contain the pile. With a billion other more pressing renovation projects underway though and our first Bub due in just 3 days, let’s just say we haven’t quite had the time and energy (or the agility!) to build one. But thanks to your wonderful article, I promise that once Bub is out and I can move with relative ease again, I WILL start my on ground heap like yours! I know our possums will get into it which I can handle, but have you ever had any issues with rats or mice?

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you Kelly 🙂 I can understand your need for lazy compost! I am not nearly as busy as you soon will be but didn’t want to spend time building a bin. I haven’t seen mice over by my heap but I think I attract them because my cat likes to inspect that area of my yard and very occasionally I’ll find him eating a mouse (I have also rescued at least one from his jaws). I wish he wouldn’t kill things but at least he is self-sufficient. Good luck with Bub! That’s very exciting! ~ Anne Marie

Leave a Reply